And that might, she said, account for rubble.
Nor did rubble stir imagination.
I gazed at piles of stones but felt little,
Felt little of substance, little of note.
I felt briefly morose but then it passed.
Once, near twilight, I felt a pang approach
After spotting between two hubcaps
An upper jawbone in jaunty repose.
But this pang, fully formed and fleshed out,
Proved to be nothing of use, just hunger.
I was still then a complete neophyte,
Bypassed wisdom without second glance,
And left all insights uncollected,
Left them all behind, still unannounced.
Now, of course, I know all the world's ploys
And give me but one tablespoon of soil
And I'll tell you what part is wood ash,
What part brick, what part bone and blood,
What part memory and what part pride.
I now find truth coiled in contingence
And like the crows that pick apart carrion,
I hunch shoulders, cock head, take my beak
And pluck ends, tug reluctant guts out
So all may see how clever I've grown.
Talk on. I may yet agree, she said.
You've got the moves, it's true, of cocky crows,
But caws they make tell more of what is
Than what I've heard pass through a parrot's beaks.
I am still inclined to put you outdoors,
Set you up, lawn ornament of the Lord,
To tell your useless tale to pigeonkind.
Listen, Marguerite, and soon you'll receive
The viscous ichtor that slain monsters leak,
The drug that numbs your sense-rejecting brain
And teaches the meanings behind birdcries.
It's slow-acting and takes a while to work,
A while before the nonsense clears up,
A while before the rockpiles tell tales
With bird-tongued titters and glottal stops.
Patience, therefore, is what's most required.
Even birds don't get it right away,
Accounting for how confused some are,
And how dazed they appear when others talk.
You need to kick them from nests to teach sense,
Remind them what their eggwhites once voiced,
That natal song that regulates growth.
And just as prophets take time to commute
From mute seas to cities choked with chatter,
Deeps that don't speak to heights that don't hear,
So too knowledge will take time to grow,
Time to take roothold in vanished pasts,
Time to twist up through the resistant soil
And then unfold its crown in rising winds.
And not even those the gadfly zaps
Can see right off what lies beneath dirt.
My own still-rudimentary powers
Were not sufficient to glean much merit
From a landscape that seemed without meaning,
Without vegetation, without inhabitants,
Without any features except ruins.
I've never seen so many ruins.
Was it shoddy construction materials,
Lax enforcement of local building codes,
Or was there another cause at work here
That makes urban clearance its only goal,
That breaks up pavements and lets in the waste?
Even then I believed, if truth be known,
That Godhead's nasty, hair-trigger temper
Should draw the blame for such desolation,
Civilization's widespread collapse
In so many sites so many times.
It's cities he hates, not nature he likes.
It's people, in fact, the way they bunch up,
The way they barter and boast of best price,
The way they stamp patent street map yeast
On the bread dough grains that once grew free,
On hairless patches on buffalo thighs,
On copper that greens if not mixed with tin.
It's people God hates, and cities they build
And thus will not scruple to knock them down,
To send around winds, earthquakes and floods
To scatter the mobs found clustered inside
The vaulted praise of great cathedral naves.
And that's why, I'd warrant, they've disappeared,
Dispatched in dark and buried underground,
So heaven may maintain bland astonishment
At how blank again this plain has grown.
My premise lacked verification as yet,
Without decade-long excavations
And close analytic study of shards
Collected up, glued and painted nicely
To match a reconstructed colour scheme,
But this grim conclusion seemed persuasive.
Civilization jumps city to city
One step ahead of his pursuing wrath,
Leaving a trail of woe, of broken stones,
Of bleak, depopulated wastelands.
Shumer and Ur, Lagash, Uruk and Kish:
All gone now, reduced to mounds and tells
Of potsherds and bricks and bitumen bits.
Liber Jonae Contents